Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
Lopez-Aguilar went to the Indianapolis Marion County Courthouse for a hearing on a misdemeanor complaint charging him with driving without a license. Officers of the Sheriff’s Department informed him that an ICE officer had come to the courthouse earlier that day looking for him. He alleges that Sergeant Davis took him into custody. Later that day, Lopez-Aguilar appeared in traffic court and resolved his misdemeanor charge with no sentence of incarceration. Sergeant Davis nevertheless took Lopez-Aguilar into custody. He was transferred to ICE the next day. Neither federal nor state authorities charged Lopez-Aguilar with a crime; he did not appear before a judicial officer. ICE subsequently released him on his own recognizance. An unspecified “immigration case” against Lopez-Aguilar was pending when he sued county officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Following discovery, the parties settled the case. The district court approved the Stipulated Judgment over the objection of the federal government and denied Indiana’s motion to intervene to appeal. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The state’s motion to intervene was timely and fulfilled the necessary conditions for intervention of right. The district court was without jurisdiction to enter prospective injunctive relief. The Stipulated Judgment interferes directly and substantially with the use of state police power to cooperate with the federal government in the enforcement of immigration laws. View "Lopez-Aguilar v. Indiana" on Justia Law

by
The district court found that Spectrum violated the Consumer Product Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. 2064(b)(3), when its subsidiary failed to timely report to the government a potentially hazardous defect in its Black & Decker SpaceMaker coffeemaker. In 2009, there were multiple complaints that the plastic handle on the coffeemaker’s carafe had broken. In one instance, the handle's failure caused a consumer to suffer a burn from the hot coffee in the carafe. Spectrum ordered design changes, but continued to sell the product and did not file a section 15(b) report with the Commission until April 2012. The court entered a permanent injunction, requiring Spectrum to adhere to its newly-implemented CPSA compliance practices and to retain an independent consultant to recommend additional modifications to those practices. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Spectrum’s argument that the late-reporting claim was barred by the statute of limitations and that the court abused its discretion in awarding permanent injunctive relief, including the requirement that it engage the expert. Spectrum’s failure to report constituted a continuing violation that did not end until Spectrum finally submitted a report; the statute of limitations did not begin to run until 2012. Given the gravity of its failures and the delay in compliance, the district court justifiably concluded that there was a reasonable likelihood that Spectrum might again commit similar violations in the future. View "United States v. Spectrum Brands, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In 2005, Joliet proposed to condemn and raze New West's apartments as a public nuisance. By 2017 the district court held that Joliet is entitled to condemn the buildings, set just compensation at $15 million, and held that New West cannot obtain relief against the city under federal housing discrimination statutes. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The parties then disputed the status of a reserve fund, about $2.8 million, that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) held for the federally-subsidized apartment complex. New West argued that the money came from rents to which it was entitled by contract with HUD and that, once it no longer had responsibility for the buildings, HUD must write it a check. The district court recognized that the fund was not part of the condemnation or housing-discrimination suits, but nonetheless rejected New West’s claim and concluded that the fund should accompany the buildings. The Seventh Circuit vacated. HUD controls the reserve fund and is the only entity that can use or disburse it; HUD was dismissed as a party in 2013. The court lacked authority to order HUD to do anything. New West needs to file a new action, seeking an order that the federal government pay it a sum of money, in the Court of Federal Claims, under the Tucker Act or in the district court. “In either forum, the judge should start from scratch, disregarding the missteps in the condemnation suit.” View "Joliet v. New West, L.P." on Justia Law

by
DeCamp, age 55, has a history of depression, drug overdoses, and suicidal thoughts. She overdosed on medication three times in October 2007. She attempted suicide and was cutting her legs. She also has a history of alcohol abuse. In 2010 DeCamp complained of headaches, and an MRI revealed a tumor in her pineal gland, which secretes hormones that regulate sleep cycles. A neurosurgeon noted that the mass was benign. The district court affirmed the denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The ALJ had made an adverse credibility determination and found that DeCamp would be off-task up to 10 percent of the workday. The Seventh Circuit remanded, finding that the ALJ failed to properly evaluation DeCamp’s limits with concentration, persistence, or pace. The ALJ focused her analysis on the doctors’ bottom-line conclusion that DeCamp was not precluded from working without giving the vocational expert any basis to evaluate all DeCamp’s impairments, including those in concentration, persistence, and pace. View "DeCamp v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

by
Mittelstadt’s Richland County, Wisconsin land was enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), from 1987-2006. CRP participants agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production in return for annual rental payments from the USDA. In 2006, the agency denied Mittelstadt’s application to re-enroll. After exhausting his administrative appeals, he sued under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 701, and asserting a breach of contract. The district court entered judgment in favor of the agency. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under the regulations governing the CRP, the USDA has broad discretion to evaluate offers of enrollment in the program on a competitive basis by considering the environmental benefits of a producer’s land relative to its costs. Given the agency’s wide latitude, the Farm Services Agency did not abuse its discretion when it denied re-enrollment of Mittelstadt’s land under a new definition of “mixed hardwoods.” Because he never entered a new contract with the agency, there was no breach of contract. View "Mittelstadt v. Perdue" on Justia Law

by
The Seventh Circuit previously concluded that people whose property is taken into custody by Illinois under its Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act, 765 ILCS 1026/15-607, are entitled to receive the time value of their property (interest or other earnings), less reasonable custodial fees. On remand the district court declined to certify a proposed class, ruling that owners are entitled to compensation for the time value of money only if the property was earning interest when the state took it into custody, which meant that the class had internal divisions that made certification inappropriate. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The Supreme Court has held that the Takings Clause protects the time value of money as much as it does money itself. What the property earns in the state’s hands does not depend on what it had been earning in the owner’s hands; cash has time value even if not invested. The Takings Clause does not set up a situation in which someone who wanted to be “in cash” bears the risk of loss as market conditions change without any prospect of offsetting gain. On remand, Illinois can argue that it does not owe interest on small amounts, such as the $100 at issue, because of administrative costs. View "Goldberg v. Frerichs" on Justia Law

by
An April 2016 Chicago Police Accountability Task Force report indicated that the Chicago Police Department’s “response to violence is not sufficiently imbued with Constitutional policing tactics.” In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report concluding that the Chicago Police Department exhibits a pattern or practice of the unconstitutional use of force. In August 2017, the state sued the city, alleging that the Chicago Police Department’s use-of-force policies and practices violate the federal constitution and Illinois law. Two days later, the parties moved to stay the proceedings while they negotiated a consent decree. Almost immediately, the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, publicly opposed any consent decree, citing fears that the decree might impair its collective bargaining rights. For months, the Lodge monitored the ongoing negotiations and met informally with the state’s representatives. The Lodge nonetheless waited until June 2018, to file a motion to intervene in the suit. The district court denied the motion to intervene as untimely. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Lodge knew from the beginning that a consent decree might impact its interests but delayed its motion for nearly a year; its allegations of prejudice are speculative. View "Illinois v. Chicago" on Justia Law

by
Ronkowski own 120 acres of undeveloped land in Bayfield County, Wisconsin. Since acquiring the property in 1972, Ronkowski has accessed it via an unpaved road that crosses over neighboring land, including land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Ronkowski brought suit under the Quiet Title Act seeking recognition of an easement to access their property by way of the unpaved road. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Ronkowski had not established entitlement to an easement. Ronkowski did not make the required showing for an easement by necessity or an easement by implication because the existing forest service road provided them an alternate route by which to reach their property. Ronkowski could not demonstrate that the easement was necessary to access the property; even if traveling by way of forest road would be “inconvenient, difficult or require a high clearance vehicle,” there was no evidence that it is impossible. View "Ronkowski v. United States" on Justia Law

by
McHenry, a 49-year-old former hair stylist who suffers from several physical and mental disabilities, challenged the denial of her application for Social Security disability benefits. The ALJ had concluded that, although McHenry suffers from degenerative disc disease and fibromyalgia, she lacked sufficient medical evidence that the conditions were disabling, and that she was not credible about her limitations. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The ALJ erred by failing to have a medical expert review a consequential MRI report. The court rejected arguments that the ALJ improperly determined McHenry’s residual functional capacity by not accounting for McHenry’s anxiety-related limits on social functioning and limits in her ability to sustain concentration because of her medications’ side effects and by discounting McHenry’s credibility. View "McHenry v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

by
Bogart, a Democrat, worked as the Financial Resources Director of Vermilion County, Illinois. Marron, a Republican, assumed control of the County Board and fired her. She brought claims under the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, alleging that Vermilion County and Marron violated her right of political affiliation and engaged in political retaliation. The district court dismissed the equal protection claim as duplicative of the First Amendment claim, and, after finding that the substantial fiscal and budgetary responsibilities of Bogart’s position fit within the exception to political patronage dismissals, granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court has held (the Elrod-Branti exception) that, while public employers cannot condition employment on an individual’s political affiliation, an employee’s First Amendment right of political association leaves room for employers to dismiss employees in positions where political loyalty is a valid job qualification. Determining whether a particular job fits within the exception requires “focus on the inherent powers of the office as presented in the official job description,” while also looking at “how the description was created and when, and how often, it was updated.” Bogart held a senior position requiring the trust and confidence of the elected Board members, including the County Chairman, and entailing substantial policymaking authority. View "Bogart v. Vermilion County" on Justia Law